Tuesday, December 15, 2020

A Light at the End of the Virus Tunnel

 I don't know how often I am hearing or reading that expression in relation to the vaccine for the virus. People receiving the first vaccine have been saying it as well as others in health care and politics. 

In 1955 while in my last year of seminary at Alexandria, VA, I said it and my fellow classmates said it. We had heard it from those who graduated before us. The first year of seminary you entered the tunnel, the second year was the darkest, where am I and what am I doing here?. And during the third and last year one began to see a light at the end of the tunnel and then graduation into the full light of day.

I am sure this metaphor has been moved to countless places. You can add your own observations and story.

The pandemic complicates the expression. While the vaccine my be the light at the end of the tunnel the virus competes by providing the greatest number of new infections, over loaded hospitals and exhausted medical caregivers, and a rising number of deaths in nursing homes and among the poor. We have not had the cooperation of some people to wear masks, keep the distance, and wash their hands. The coming together of families over Thanksgiving is now showing up as more people come down with the virus illness. Christmas and other religious gatherings are ahead of us. What will we experience before the light is the light. I have heard it said the night is darkest before the dawn. True or false. In our experience with the virus it may be true. 

We have a language that provides metaphorical short cuts. You move a word or expression to a new place to communicate a lot of meaning by piggy backing when you move the expression or word to a new place. We are image makers.

Close off for now as I start collecting. Now adding on the 25th of December with people traveling and families gathering. Not here. We are celebrating separately while keeping in contact texting, iPhone, and Zoom on Sunday. 

The light at the end of the tunnel disappeared fast as a popular metaphor only to be replaced by the word hope. Hope is the big word this Christmas. You can find the word countless places. I will not try to name them. 

The most unique was the Doctor and Genesis Medical in Davenport who started dancing after he received he shot. I had to look up the words to a folk hymn, The Lord of the Dance. I heard the author sing the song in a folk song gathering. He is an English Quaker. Those interested can find the words by engaging the internet that has more information that the Public Library.

The light at the end of the tunnel and hope seems to have skeptics with reservations to taking the vaccine. I will be ready myself and so will my wife who is a nurse. She is critical of the pictures showing nurses giving the shot to special people.  They are doing it wrong. I have received instructions for doing it the right way. So far she hasn't seen anyone doing it right and since she is a ob/gyn nurse she knows how important the right was is for babies. I will try to arrange to have her give me the vaccine shot the right way.

I haven't seen this metaphorical expression but there is the term "a shot in the arm."


Marlin Whitmer, retired hospital chaplain

Founder of the Befrienders and the art of story metaphor listening.

Friday, December 4, 2020

Immigrants all, starting with Abraham

The Quad City Times carried a lead story in their Celebrate Section onThurs., Jan. 14, 1999 that is a Genesis 12 story. Genesis 12 begins the journey of Abraham when he is called by God to leave the city of Ur. 


The Call of Abram

1The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.”  (NIV)


I encourage your reading about Abraham starting with the 12th chapter of Genesis. I have been reflecting on the Genesis story of Abraham more than once in these blogs.  


The headlines in the QCTimes read"Strangers in a friendly land." The stories by Paula Parrella begin with this line, "Imagine yourself in an unfamiliar country where everyone around you speaks a different language." I wonder, did Abraham know the Egyptian language? Or did everyone speak Arabic? When did Hebrew come in?

The article documents four families: Two are from Bosnia and two are fromVietnam who left the familiar for the unfamiliar. As America becomes more multi-cultural Genesis 12 takes on more meaning. America has been a place to dream, vision, learn, work, etc., a promised land. Have we not been agathering place for Genesis 12 folk? Thomas Jefferson wanted to have "acloud by day and a pillar of fire" on the dollar bill. We do have “a new order under heaven.” He was proposing a direct image from the book of Exodus andthe way Moses and the Hebrew people traveled in the wilderness for the promised land ... another journey story and a continuation of the journey of Abraham.

All my ancestors left the familiar as Abraham to come to this unfamiliar land of promise. They came for different reasons and from different places, there is more than one Ur. The Whitmer’s came to escape religious persecution before the Revolutionary War, coming out of Switzerland and arriving here from Holland. Another Great Grandfather came with his wife from Germany to escape military conscription or jail. We have more than one story. My Irish Great Grandparents came to escape starvation, the potato famine. My Scottish Great Great Grandfather, I am not sure about the reason. He came early but moved along with the Whitmer’s to become a well know blacksmith in the early days of Cedar and Muscatine Counties, Iowa.   


The result, my mother's first language was German. She grew up on a farm near Louden, Ia. When I went to the Krienbring Reunions as a boy I heard the elders speaking German. My mother understood. My father did not speak German. He felt out of place. Plus he didn't play cards or drink beer. There was one other man with a German background and a farmer who did not play cards or drink beer. They would visit about farming. 


During WorldWar 1 my mother abruptly stopped speaking German while in grade school. America’s participation in the war brought criticism to Germans for using their language. Iowa passed a law forbidding the spoken language. The trauma of that event continued for my mother’s lifetime. She would not even share a German word or phrase when asked. 

I remember going to a Japanese New Years party in Chicago. I was the only Caucasian. My friend George Hayashi, seminary classmate, had invited me as we were on our way back to Virginia Seminary. It was agreat party. They had plenty of food, mostly pickled. The women said they had been preparing for months. I like pickles and it all tasted good even if I didn’t know what I was eating.  They had plenty of drinks, warm saki. Wow! Laughter was also plentiful although I didn't know what they were laughing about. George would occasionally translate. It must have been funny in Japanese. A number there were survivors of the Japanese internment camp. George had been in the Japanese internment camp during WW11 as a young boy. Another story. Another harsh treatment of immigrants.


This reflection was first writing in January 14, 1999. Now under some revision I submit this with the acknowledgement that Donald Trump is the President of the United States. He must have an entirely different interpretation to Genesis 12 with the rhetoric of the building of a wall along with deportations and severe limits on immigration. He reminds me of our previous mistakes generated by fear and the impact it had on people's well being, like my mother.

Do you have any Genesis 12 memories and/or current Genesis 12 happenings in yourneighborhood? I think it is important to reflect on these stories as we struggle with our post 9/11 world that lives in fear of the “other.” We were once the “other.”




Founder of the Befrienders in 1966 and the Art of story metaphor listening in 1975. 

Read the blog "Comfortable with the Uncomfortable."  

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Reflections at 90 years of age. (becoming a wise old man???)

Surprise! How did I get here so fast as the time goes faster at my age and I move more slowly. Does moving about slowly make the time go faster?  

I don't plan to complete my reflections today since I am planning on another day and another day with frequent updates and revisions. The frequent updates and revisions have been few but we have now moved from June 1, 2020, to January 3, 2021. I am on my way to becoming 91. 

When I was in high school I read a book filled with essays on different topics. I found the book under what we called a library table. It was a monstrosity. How the book came to be there I forgot to ask. Along with two other books. That constituted the extent of our home library. Perhaps the small number of books was an advantage, I kept reading the book on essays and the chapter that caused continued interest and rereading was entitled wisdom. Then and there I decided I wanted wisdom. Now at 90 years of age, what can I say? I lost the book. I don't know what happened to it. I don't even know what happened to the library table. I am sure my mother sold it when she sold the house after my father died. 

Shortly before coming down with chicken pox I started a library of my own by joining a couple book clubs. One on the classics (Plato and Aristotle) and another a religious book club.  They sent a book a month and my library grew rapidly. Just in time. I came down with chicken pox sometime in the middle of my sophomore year. Itchy time. The book that came for me to read was Richest of the Poor, a book about the life of St. Francis of Assisi  A sickness changed his life. I began to identify. Afterwards I became a more serious student, my grades improved immensely enabling me to graduate from high school with a B average. Quite a jump from my freshman year and first half of my sophomore year. During my senior year I took to heart a repeated phrase from my Civics teacher, "become a life long learner." That phrase can be heard more frequently now, 70 years later. My seminary uses a similar language for their Continuing Education Program. I added a book entitled some time in the mid-60's, 

What is strange is the reaction taking place with some in authority who are listening less, ignoring, even denying those with specialized training and expertise in all kinds of health care modalities, research, infection control, epidemiology, public health, etc. Where is our wisdom during a very serious pandemic?  I would count our local infection control doctor with Scott County Public Health, Dr. Katz, as a wise doctor.  I worked with him in the hospital during the HIV crisis. He writes for the newspaper and his comments reflect those of the public health department where he works. Sad. He would mandate wearing a mask and our governor refuses to issue a mandate. As a result Iowa still has a high number of folks with the virus, that includes our Scott County where I lived.

Perhaps a wise saying would be, there is a certain amount of resistance to gaining wisdom.

Time to look for the definition of wisdom. Sophis in the Greek language, an ultimate kind of knowing. The word is in the background of our word sophistication. Somehow I think something was lost in translation. Being sophisticated is not all that complimentary. 

More to be added here.

I have been interrupted by an email question. How to get rid of whiteflies on tomato plants? To be continued. Also from another time. Aphids have attacked my new Chinese cabbage plants and lettuce leaves. Investigation and purchase. Neem oil in a spray bottle is now on my shelf. After a couple of days, to be applied every 7 days, it seems to be effective. I am an avid gardener at 90. Growing up on a farm provides a love for the land. With a three tierd grow light stand I can start seeds for transplanting to the garden And lettuce can be grown to harvest and well as micro greens. Now I see the seed company has  another kind of lettuce I will try out. (as I edit I notice I ended the sentence with a preposition. An unconscious slip revealing my background comes from what is known as the Pennsylvania Dutch. I will leave the sentence instead of editing  to illustrate who I am.) 

Back from advice on whiteflies, aphids, and Neem oil. In the meantime I sent off an email about a Greek passage in the Acts of the Apostles that became a discussion point during our Saturday morning gathering. I went to the Hub interlinear which had Peter's sermon in chapter 2.  My email about the passage in question received a quick reply with the words "Thanks for your wisdom." Timely. Maybe what I have a hard time acknowledging others can.

Another break for an email of a person going through a difficult grief.  A reply to her pain. She wrote back, "That helped so much." 

As a retired hospital chaplain who facilitated a grief recovery group for 17 years, 1975 to 1992, I am still involved. I have a sermon on the Trinity Cathedral web site on the grief of our time, and one on this blog. Recovering from our losses is a seed bed for wisdom. Wisdom grows out of our relational experiences including all kinds of losses.

When I come back to this blog I will acknowledge the mystical. At this age I call myself a Christian mystic. To describe myself as such did not happen over night. The journey tells the story. Someone else was helping to write the story I will tell, The story is told by many others down through human history and in different religious traditions. Each has their own story. My experience comes out of the Christian tradition in the Episcopal Church. 

On the 3rd Sunday of March in 1973 I celebrated the Eucharist at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Bettendorf. The sermon was a summary of a paper I would present at the Chaplain's Convention in Atlanta, GA. The paper was on training lay people to be story listeners in a hospital setting. I was nervous about the presentation. The paper was a ground breaker to some extent and I didn't know how my fellow chaplains would accept it. During the consecration prayer in the Eucharist I came to the word broke and I lost my voice. My brain was reviewing my father's losses and rejection. I was reviewing my own. The time lapse was long enough for people in the congregation to start wondering if I was sick. Some later told me I turned white. Another was ready to come forward and help. Then I heard a voice: "broken is not the last word". I regained my voice and finished the service. The talk in Atlanta went better than expected with a small turn out. But a chaplain from as hospital across the river resonated. He an I began training Befrienders together for a number of years. We even wrote a book about our work. Fortress press rejected our manuscript but the two hospitals published a limited edition. 

Now I am ready to talk about mystical experience and learning from the margins. The Befrienders were a learning group from the margins starting in 1966. And yesterday, 9/27/2020, Richard Rohr reflection was on St. Francis of Assisi, mysticism and the margins. There. I tied a few things together. Riches of the Poor, a mystical experience, and margins as a part of journey toward wisdom.

Besides my on going reflection on wisdom I am adding the importance of balance. I have a physical therapist who is helping me by providing exercises to improve my balance.  When I started the program I could nob balance myself when I put my two feet side by side. Now, no problem. The problems comes when I put one foot in front of the other without holding on to anything but having something nearby to grab. I am improving. I have better balance on my right leg, not so good on the left. I am doing exercises to strengthen my leg muscles. 

Yesterday I read in a Harvard Medical newsletter that different medications can affect balance. I have more to read and learn as I continue to improve my balance. Older people like me fall easier and having better balance is a preventative approach. Hoping for better balance for all who read this. You may have gained some wisdom in the process.  I am a blog on being helped by a physical therapist. My wife is presently being helped by that same physical therapist. She has had extra training which helps her to have a wisdom about the exercises she offers. She has given me some exercises to help with balance, my herniated discs in my lower back, and the neuropathy in my feet. She would not be able to remove the cancer tumor in my bladder as the urologist did in October of 2019 and the subsequent bladder scopes which say clear. He shared wisdom brings more comfort and management skills each day I continue to live. 

During the pandemic my wife and I are most fortunate and blessed to live in a large house with a big yard. We both have our hobbies and interests. Mine is growing foods to eat from a three tiered grow light stand. I am specializing in micro greens at present, several herbs, impatient rooting from a parent plant five years ago, and etc.  I write for a blog and the listening reflections on Trinity Cathedral's web site. At present I am facilitating a Saturday morning Zoom meeting on the letters of St. Paul. I like to bring out the Greek language meanings that get lost in the English translations. The rhetoric in Paul's Greek doesn't always get translated accurately. Also in the Gospels with the Greek pecan being an example. It gets translated more than on way, crossing over and other side. Folks that only read the English are unaware to the same word being used more than once which is a way of saying, pay attention, peran is the introduction to something very important, only revealed after peran.


Marlin Whitmer

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Sojourners in Cyberspace

Originally written in 2013 for the listening reflections on the Trinity Cathedral, Davenport, Iowa, web-site I am now sharing as we look for new ways to form community during the pandemic.

Since 2013 Yahoo has deleted the serve list begun un 1999.

This is an invitation to join me in a community formation process in cyberspace. As a son of Abraham, my spiritual father, I too have been called from the familiar to the unfamiliar throughout my life. I too am a child of promise by my Baptism in Christ. Christians were first called the people of the way. Our journey with Christ as the way connects with our beginnings as sojourners. 

 My journey into cyberspace as a sojourner began in January of 1999 with the serve list Scripture and Daily Life. The serve list continues on Yahoo with a password for entrance. Rich Paxton, a layperson from Mason City, is our technical person and I continue to serve as a facilitator/learner. We began with a series of Scripture readings and email conversations focusing on care and compassion. Our first readings were from the sojourner, Abraham, in the Book of Genesis. We then moved to reflecting on the Sunday lectionary as we still do. Our reflections provide an archive on many topics. 

 In 2003 I began a series of distant learning seminars on the Healing Power of Story Listening for the Wayne Oates Institute. (2. 3.) The Wayne Oates Institute, named after a noted pastoral care teacher, provides Continuing Education Units for health care providers, mainly chaplains. I have been amazed to find you can increase listening skills through email discussions in cyberspace. My evidence is from participants in the seminars who acknowledged an improvement in their listening skills. The irony of my sojourner story in cyberspace comes from first teaching story listening skills to lay people. The listening model evolved to learning how language functions through metaphors in our conversations. The listening model then moved from non professionals to professional health care providers. In so doing the model became caught in the certification process of professionals. 

In retirement I lost a place to train where it all began, with non professionals, lay people, for ministry in everyday conversations. Hopefully, in my remaining years I can bring the model back into parish and community life where everyday conversations have a health benefit, especially with chronic illness being the major health issue out in the community. 

I know this first hand with Bobbie's four encounters with cancer, starting in 1990, and my own encounters with hypertension, heart, and herniated disc. Our everyday support is out in the community and not in health care centers where the consultants reside. Even at the time of end stage facilities like hospice, there is home care time preceeding. My hearing disability in old age makes workshops impractical for teaching. 

What works is small groups of sojourners in cyberspace for short learning sessions. The increase in listening skills comes as we read and grow as a community in cyberspace. To grow in this manner means, like Abraham, we have to leave our comfort zones in the beginning and sojourn with a promise, moving from the familiar to the unfamiliar. Leaving our comfort zone is not an easy decision. Scripture says Abraham was 75 years of age. He was not a young man. What makes this more remarkable, as we age our brains put us in a rut where change is more difficult. Leaving our comfort zone becomes more of a challenge. Abraham, our first sojourner, is calling us. He serves as a worthy model. 

To have a healthy growing brain requires sojourners. The latest research examining brain images confirms this. (1) Send me an email if you have a calling to become a sojourner in cyberspace for ministry in everyday conversations. mwhitmer80@gmail.com 

 Marlin Whitmer (retired certified hospital chaplain and a cyberspace facilitator/learner) 

 Resource books: 
1. Barbara Strauch, The Secret Life of the Grown Up Brain 
2. Harold D. Stolovitch and Erica J. Keeps, Telling ain't Training 
3. Robin Neidorf, Teach Beyond your Reach

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Partial Book Review




Partial book review: Maybe You Should Talk to Someone


The author, Lori Gottlieb, has short snatches relevant to the different clients from authors of different therapists. Her book is no text book, scholarly, and academic account of these therapist nor does she cover the field. My training and experience in pastoral care could generate too much writing. I will limit myself to a few areas.


She has the stages of Eric Ericson. Her focus is on his 8thstage, integrity vs. despair. What she leaves out is his noted approach to psycho social history where his analysis his own story from and unwed mother to becoming a Harvard professor without a PhD. A one of a kind and the story is in his psycho social history. He does the same in his book on Gandhi. It is a great read and I recommend it as another example of therapy. Ie understanding.


At the end of her book in acknowledgments the author says, “we grow in connection with others.” She then thanks her patients, “They teach us so much.” As a chaplain I can say the same, patients, staff, administration, caregivers, community, etc. all have given me new insights and understandings that are passed on to others. 


This insight is in Dr. Alfred Adler’s book “Social Interest.” An essential in mental health and overcoming mental illness. Adler is the third psychiatrist in the Freud, Yung, line. He did not probe the unconscious as the first two. He stayed more with the conscious mind through stories. In therapy an ealy question is, “What are your earliest recollections.” He starts with stories. These stories will help explore where the client has made mistaken interpretation that are becoming troublesome. Adler was also interested in birth order. I am the classic dethroned king. An only child for six years on a farm, and a brother was born with health issues. The attention that centered on me was abruptly gone. Fast forwarding I moved to see all are my equals as brothers and sisters. My thanks to Willard Beecher, Adlerian Therapist, and co author of Parents On the Run and Beyond Success and Failure. 


She is Adlerian without naming Adler with all her acknowledgments.


In the same page she gives Wendell a special acknowledgement. “thank you for seeing my neshama, even (and especially) when I couldn’t.” We are into the Hebrew bible. 


With that small insight I say we have two Jewish therapists who have left out the heart of the discussion. They already knew what the heart is. I will refer you to this article if you want to know more.



She has one other reference to Scripture otherwise the transcendent is mainly absent as is the mystical.  Over my lifetime I have become a Christian mystic. My brother had the experience before me. My mystical experience came while I was celebrating the Eucharist on a Sunday morning. That is one way to bewilder a congregation. Most though I was getting sick, I turned white, some said. 


William James, early American psychologist, who wrote the “The Varieties of Religious Experience” for the Gifford Lectures. You can read the Gifford Lectures on the internet. He says 65% of the people have a mystical experience. I would agree. It is the elephant in the room for most. I count “out of the body experiences” under this heading. I have heard a number  of stories as a chaplain to know the reality.


She has a chapter counseling and therapy where the word neshama appears. She gives examples where she wants Wendell to counsel and how he wisely responds with a story about his father. Then the paradoxical intervention. She is wanting an answer (fix it) about writing the book she doesn’t want to write. Wendell’s fix is to give the question back to her. An important chapter where neshama comes up again.


Big insights here, learn by doing, “as I heal inside, I’m also more adept at healing others.” And “once you know the basics, you can skillfully improvise.” That is Jazz folks. That is learning to live Jazz. And my discovery of that came after the mystical experience for the two sides were in my mystical experience, structure and improvise. 


When you professionalize reality you can also lose touch with reality. My approach with lay people was to train them in part to be a lay therapist. They do that anyway in ordinary conversation when they drop the necessity of having to fix the other persons story.  That requires a disciplined way of listening.


Blogs located here are a beginning at describing that discipline as the art of story metaphor listening.



Marlin Whitmer


Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Comfortable with the uncomfortable

Becoming Comfortable with the uncomfortable.

A foundational principle in the Befriender training. I would start there again.  This is where real listening begins.

“Becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable” was the mantra. And Abraham is our teacher for the journey. Genesis is our beginning. Abraham in his old age left the comforts of Ur, called out, to begin a wandering in forming a new people. 

Befrienders had to leave the comforts of their own stories and often the need to be in control, wanting to fix the problem. Instead all of us were to make room for the uncomfortable and comfortable stories of those hospitalized. Many of the stories involved grief. Sometimes the stories were from the past and sometimes they were from the present. The dynamic was incarnation as the words of others were given room in our flesh for a mirroring, and “the eye sees itself but by reflection.”

This is a continuing journey, the structure for listening is a descent/ascent, uncomfortable/comfortable. We have this in three locations at present: church, virus, and social justice. Gaining a tolerance for discomfort will be our continuing prayer and the learning curve to a greater truth.  The fire of Pentecost can be purifying, as old elements are burnt off for a better outcome. 

 With social justice Andra Day says, “True Allyship Requires a Willingness to Be Uncomfortable.”

In the midst of nationwide protests over racism and police brutality, Day says that white people who want to be allies need to start questioning their thought processes

“People forget that racism — systemic racism, institutionalized racism, racial injustice and oppression — is a network. It’s a network of things happening at the same time in order to make you think the way you think and me think the way I think. Otherwise it doesn’t work,” she says. “You can’t only control the thoughts of the people being oppressed. You have to control the thoughts of the oppressor — whether they’re aware of it or not. So I think one of the first things [white people] can do is really start to question and undo some of the things that they think about people of color in this nation, about black people in this nation.”


Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Seeing metaphors is the first task

Seeing metaphors is the first task for seeing deeper levels of meaning. From seeing them you can move to listening for them.   

First a definition: meta new   phor place
Aristotle wrote about metaphors in his book on Rhetoric. 

My way of teaching the Befriender model of listening starts with seeing. The first session in their training after the orientation was on metaphors. I sent folks home to check out the sports page for metaphors. One lady came back saying, "I couldn't find any. I asked my grandson to help and he could not find any either. This is too difficult." I said thanks for the metaphor. She was puzzled. "Difficult" is an "orientation" metaphor. You can move difficult to a lot of different places. Orientation metaphors are verbs, adverbs, adjectives, and prepositions. Root metaphors are nouns, pronouns, and often direct objects.

One year a gentleman started from ground zero, an engineer, as to what metaphors meant. He was the most academically educated in the group yet with no awareness of how metaphors function in our language and communication. At the end of the evening he said they were the key to communication. The word key told me, “He got it.”

Sports writers and coaches delight their readers with metaphors that are easy to see. Whether they understand how language works I do not know. I do know they know how to make language work. And what I do is help people know, what they already know, but don’t know they know. 

“sweep the series. It was a clean sweep.” This is no ordinary broom. This is metaphorical language engaged in communicating. 

What did you find in the sports page today? Take a look and circle the orientation and root metaphors 

Sports writers, coaches, and players move metaphors to explain in a short hand way what is happening. Todays Quad City Times (Friday, March 29, 2019) is no exception. The article is about the Pleasant Valley girls track team, the sprinters and their relay coach. The coach is quoted, “when you have the versatility of the kids we have, it becomes a chess match.”  Following the suggestion of Johnson and Lakoff in Metaphors for Everyday Life we have an orientation metaphor, versatile, and a root metaphor, chess match.” I guess the chess match refers to the coach moving runners to different places. The article gives examples before “chess match” is used. “Chess match” becomes a summary of what has preceded. 

Another example from the past.

Kirk Ferentz, the Iowa coach did it after the Wisconsin Game. “We’re not the prettiest car in the lot,” Ferentz said, “but that’s OK. We’re having a lot of fun.” Who would match a car lot with a team at a football game? "Not the prettiest car in the lot" was his description of the Hawkeye team metaphorically speaking. Obviously they are not literally a car in the lot and then "not the prettiest car." He has moved the expression to represent his team. And you don't have to be "pretty" to win and you can have a "lot of fun" at the same time. In a more earthy way others say, "they get the job done." Here "job done" is moved to describe the Hawkeyes.

 Root Metaphors and Orientation Metaphors: 
Root metaphors are nouns and direct objects. Johnson and Lakoff use “time is money” as root metaphors in our culture. We talk about budgeting our time, saving time, and spending our time (Johnson and Lakoff, page 7-8).
Orientation metaphors are verbs, adverbs, adjectives, and above all, prepositions (Lakoff and Johnson, pages 9-24). We can easily miss how much prepositions tell us as they move from "down in the basement," "the stock market is down," and "down in the dumps." Without getting overly complicated, as some explanations can, I stick to these two basic kinds of metaphors for gaining a better understanding for listening to stories.
Examples from my hospital experience.   
Fire makes poets of us all: Shakespeare.

As we search for words to explain the unexplainable we resort to metaphors, moving words we understand to what we do not understand. The reality, you can not construct a sentence without using metaphors. It isn’t realistic to look or listen for every word. Find the metaphor as Aristotle suggests means find the key words that are the heart of the story. Sometimes hidden. Sometimes unsaid. Sometimes out in the open as clear as day. We move words around to different places as innovative as poets. We are meaning and image makers.

“The doctor dropped a bomb on me today.” The remark of a wife outside of the Intensive Care Unit after the doctor had told her about her husbands condition. He said, “Her husbands mental confusion may not clear up soon.” I notified her church. later in the day after various visitors dropped by she said, “My husband and I have weathered many storms.” She moved from shattered to finding a way through. Her metaphors tell her story.

change the metaphor you change your story.
change the story you change your future.

Marlin Whitmer

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Grief Sermon

Here is the direct link to view my delivery of the sermon: 

Several weeks ago (June 7, 2020) I asked Dean Horn for permission to preach during the Sunday service at Trinity Cathedral, Davenport, Iowa. With all the discussion around the coronavirus there was something missing. We had an elephant in the room and no one was talking about it. Folks were using grief language without using the word grief.

One week later a drastic and overwhelming change came with the murder of George Floyd. the overwhelming emotions generated from social injustice added to the 108,000 coronavirus deaths bringing grief and mourning out into the open big time.

My original plan was to give a sermon on Pentecost to celebrate my 90th birthday and 65th year of ordination. Circumstances changed my plans. Instead Ron May brought the choir to our house and they made a half circle in the yard, distancing, singing two of my favorite hymns, Lord of the dance, and the Celtic ordination hymn which begins with the Trinity. “I bind unto myself today the strong name of the Trinity. By invocation of the same, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” We are called into community as the Trinity is in community. The verse will be the foundation of all I say today with the mystery of the Trinity abiding in our presence.
I facilitated a grief recovery group for 17years. iI a participant came to the group grieving a violent death.  the surviving person was moved to an individual appointment.  Their emotions silenced the emotions of others in a grief group and no one talked. You can be overpowered. Numbing sets in or an equal emotional reaction occurs. Words just don’t cut it when events become too staggering. Words need time to name the pain. And the words cover a wide range of feelings from discomfort, fatigue, frustration, distraction, upset, and grumpy, to disconnect, anguish, overwhelmed, exhausted, crazy times, etc. 

My main task is to share some insights secular and biblical about grief and mourning. All persuasions are grieving and morning. We are a nation and a people in grief. We are a grieving church. We grieve on many levels. And Who knows how many other unresolved griefs linger at the same time.
My credentials for addressing the topic come from being a professional chaplain. The president of the  Chaplains association wrote that grief work is one of our most important skills because to become a whole person requires healing. So where can we look to for healing. Christ heals. Christ did grief work in the upper room, appearing to and being with the disciples, asking the two on the road to Emmaus to share what was going on in Jerusalem. He helped them to Name it and Talk about it. And with Petter who betrayed him three times, Christ asked him three times, do you Love me, feed my sheep

My own grief stories begin early, at age 5, the loss of my dog, and then at age 8 the 3rd generation family farm was lost during the depression of 1938. In six years we lived in seven different houses, I went to four different schools in three different towns. We experienced poverty. I then lost a father with an unresolved grief and chronic depression  Grief can be experienced in many ways. I was a skinny runt, always the last chosen for sand lot softball. I did make it in high school wrestling at 112 pounds. That kind of loss and grief left me with an inner anger needing healing. I have known healing over time.

Our griefs have to be faced, named, and acknowledged more than once. Here I find the Lament Psalms helpful. There are communal laments and individual laments. We need both Jim Wallis of Sojourners is encourage communal laments for our time. We all can write one. We can write a personal lament for not being able to worship together as a congregation in Church. But remember our Baptism:,we are in Christ wherever we go, wherever we are, and we are the Church where ever we go where we are and we are in him and he is in us. 

Lament Psalms have stages.'The early stage addresses God, then the complaint followed by a petition. In the process pain is named in powerful language, like Ps. 86, Bow down your ear o Lord for I am poor and in misery.” 

With the virus and social injustice communal laments are needed, both in the early stages.The titles of articles say it best. Nightmare, social unrest, parallel crisis, Anguish, In reality the stages are extended, taking longer than most people want to admit.

Our Prayer Book is a great resource here with all 150 Psalms, there you will find the laments, and and in the back special Prayers and Thanksgivings starting on page

Dr. Kubler Ross and her five stages on grief are still relevant . A Befriender working with the grief recovery group ave a talk describing grief as work and windows. As work we are all over the emotional map, a mess of spaghetti as one person said, with the different strands representing different emotions appearing, disappearing, and reappearing another place. In the midst of the work we need window times. A time to see where we are. Back to Dr. Kulber Ross and her five windows.

. There’s denial, which we say a lot of early on: This virus won’t affect us. There’s angerYou’re making me stay home and taking away my activities. There’s bargaining: Okay, if I social distance for two weeks everything will be better, right? There’s sadness: I don’t know when this will end. And finally there’s acceptance. This is happening; I have to figure out how to proceed.  Acceptance, as you might imagine, is where the power lies. We find control in acceptance. I can wash my hands. I can keep a safe distance. I can learn how to work virtually.

You can move these 5 windows to our life at Trinity Cathedral at present, to the social unrest, to any transition in life.  As we share the stories during our window time we become mirrors of understanding to each other.  Loving God, neighbor and self. Or as Shapespeare said, the eye sees itself but by reflection.  We reflect all three. God, Neighbor, and self.

David Kessler, another grief counselor, adds a couple more windows, finding meaning in the jouney and anticipatory grief.  Anticipatory grief challenges our patience and our trust, even Faith. We are grieving an uncertain future. We do not have a final outcome to many of our current issues. We are not back in church. the virus continues, social injustice  continue. Etc. Maintain the course. The Psalms name God as stronghold, rock, and more, In the New Testament we read Christ is in us and we in Him.

In the 17th Chapter of John Jesus prays,

25 “O righteous Father, the world doesn’t know you, but I do; and these disciples know you sent me. 26 I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so. Then your love for me will be in them, and I will be in them.”

How is that lived our as we go through the process of being healed in our many griefs? I have a story that I lived the first year of my ordination. I was a curate at St. Thomas Episcopal Church Sioux City. C. B. Chesterman, a successful business, was paying my salary. Once a month he and hs wife took me out to dinner at the best restaurant in Sioux City.. I was 25. They were in their 80;;s. About the 5th month I asked. you folks have so much fun together. What is your secret.?He said without any hesitation. ?We don't know each other yet.” Over 50 years and still getting acquainted.  We don’t know each other yet. Its a life long journey and we are blessed to have each other as sojourners.

I end with the hope that we will continue to know each other, knowing and loving go together as Christ said.

“I bind unto myself today the strong name of the Trinity. By invocation of the same, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”  …

 Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me.


Monday, April 27, 2020

Metaphor for the Day: April 27

Metaphor for the Day, April 27, 2020, is Petri dish.

I have settled on a way of collecting metaphors during the coronavirus. I will be naming metaphors and metaphorical patterns from time to time as they appear in print.

I have already identifies two main over arching metaphors, warfare and education.

I have a metaphorical pattern I will share on another day. And today I see the New York times has an article on the words used. That should reveal some orientation metaphors. The way we communicate in this time of pandemic is as important as the crisis itself. If we are all in this together, which we are, we need to identify how we are speaking to each other in the process of living through the experience.

Here is today, April 27

From the Washington Post

My roommate is considered essential. Our health is not.

New York's skyscrapers might be empty, but some of our homes are petri dishes.
Christian ethics involves a both and, lover your neighbor as yourself. Shalom,

Marlin Whitmer, BCC
retired hospital chaplain
founder of the Befrienders (1966)
and the art of story metaphor listening (1975)

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Spiritual impact of story listening.

Spiritual Impact of Story Listening 

1. Trust Building - Sharing - Soul Friend
2. Community Building - Relational
3. Affirmation - child of God. Family of God. Called people. Baptism.
4. Meaning - Life Purpose and Destiny
5. Blessing - Thanksgiving and appreciation - Eucharistic 

6. Peace - more together - whole - complete - integration 

7. Atonement - reconciliation - forgiveness 

The trust level can increase. I was witness to this recently during a bible study on a Sunday lectionary passage. Toward the end of the discussion several people shared more personal stories. The trust level had grown during the discussion where some were comfortable sharing personal stories that related to the discussion.

Relationships and a community bond grows. A mutual benefit can be experienced by the story teller and the story listener. 

Meaning and fulfillment can be affirmed. Theologically one can see the incarnation characteristics as the listener makes room for the story in the inn of his or her consciousness. I sometimes refer to the as the Christmas experience. Evelyn Underhill talked about the continuing incarnation.

Some degree of reconciliation can be experienced. “Ministers of reconciliation” can be translated “servants of change.” Listeners function as a mid-wife in allowing people to move to a new place from where they were. 

A blessing, benedictum, good word, may be given in a variety of ways when the one telling the story says to the listener  “I needed to tell someone.” "I appreciate your listening." "Thanks."

Different ways to convey the message of significant stories. 

When I do a two hour grass roots health care orientation session I help people know what they already know but do not know they know. I engage in the process of intellectual conversion. I have found two hours may not be sufficient. Even though people are already hearing significant stories, the old mind set of scientific medicine and health care as cure is embedded in the non professional as well as the professional. Resistance comes from both the professional, turf, and from the non professional, lack of knowledge. The common factor would be fear. 

I gave a health care sermon in a Church on the Sunday where they were emphasizing healthy life styles. During the sermon I did my significant story survey another way. Usually, I have people write them out on paper or I can engage them in a one to one conversation. Now I have a short time with a large group. I do the survey another way. I ask them to raise their hand if any have made hospital visits? visited in a nursing home? attended a visitation for a funeral? How many heard stories when you were there at any of these places? Raise your hand. Look around. See how many hands are up? 

Now when you heard these stories in the different locations how many realized you were engaged in ministry? health care? I lose them at health care. Nurses will raise their hand.

Then I stress how in chronic illness and prevention where more responsibility is with the person. And how story listening effects body, mind, and spirit. 

On this Sunday the parish nurse had provided six alternative healthy snacks for the coffee hour along with their usual rolls and doughnuts. What did the people eat right after being reminded of our responsibility in caring for their bodies? Most went for the rolls and doughnuts. 

Marlin Whitmer

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Listening Training Exercise: Most Page Views

Listening Triad Exercise with speaker, listener, and observer. 

My objectives: (1) to improve our listening skills (2) for collaborative learning (3) in whatever community we find ourselves.

During the 25 years doing Befriender training Listening Triads with speaker, listener, and observer became an important exercise. Howard Clinebell, a pastoral theologian who conducted two three-day workshops in different years in the 70’s, introduced us to the exercise. I like it better than role-playing which I was never comfortable using. 

Triads were more realistic for me since the speaker tells a story that is fresh in their mind or they could pick a story from the category chosen for the session, like an illness story, elderly story, family crisis, dying patient story, grief story, etc. Our two-hour training sessions had a presentation and discussion in the first hour and a practice sessions in the second hour based on the presentation. Triads were our most used training exercise during the practice session. Verbatim and practice responses were also used. 

In Listening Triads listening was the main focus. Instead of number off the group members one by one, the group said going around the group one by one, speaker, listener, observer, speaker, listener, observer, etc. until all were named. If extra at the end you add to a group where two speakers, or listeners, or observers. People rotate so all get a chance at being each.

The speaker starts a story on the assigned topic and the listener can only interrupt to give a summary of the story told up to that point. The listener can not ask questions or tell a story of their own or give suggestions. They have to stay with the story being told and can only repeat a summary as they go along. The observers are double-listeners, listening to the story of the speaker and the summaries of the listener. After the speaker finishes the observer shares where the listener was on target with the summary and where they missed part of the story. 

It is helpful to do a demonstration model in the beginning with the presenter serving as listener to show both listening and stopping to give short summaries. of the story being told.

Persons in the Triad rotate so all have the experience of being speaker, listening, and observer. This takes time and there is no rush. We usually had four or five Listening Triads going at one time. After they started it was my task to answer any questions a Triad might have. When the groups were finished all were debriefed in the group as a whole, speakers were asked, “What was it like being speaker? What was it like being listener? What was it like being observer?” 

The speakers usually affirmed the value of having a listener that allowed them to tell their story in full. Listeners felt the constraint of just being a listener. Being a listener only was not an easy assignment. They wanted to ask questions or offer some help during the story or do what is called, “leap frog” what was being said. Observers had the challenge in listening to both and offering helpful observations to the listener as to where they were catching what was being said and where they came up short. 

I remember a time when I was doing the Triad exercise with a new class for the Home Maker Service. Mrs. Bell had me come down and participate in their orientation with a listening session. The Homemakers would be hearing the stories as well as doing the work they were assisted to do in a given home. Being a listener would be their role rather than giving advice. I started with a demonstration Triad for all to watch and listen. This time the speaker told her own grief story in great detail and in a moving way. The listener did a good job of listening and repeating back from time to time what she had heard. The observer commented on both. During the debriefing time the listener complained she could not make suggestions or give advise or feel helpful. The speaker affirmed that being able to tell the story without the advice or extra comments was the must helpful. The importance of being the listener was affirmed as well as the speaker. 

The listener has an advantage in one respect. The speaker can only talk 125 words per minute on average while the listener has 400 to 600 words going in their head. The extra words help the listener sort out what is important in the story being told. The other side of the issue, the extra words can also serve as a distraction in staying with what is being told. 

The discipline of story listening requires holding in check our own stories, telling a better story, leap-frogging with helps and answers, etc. The real test comes as the feelings become stronger in a story being told to not let the feelings interfere with our listening and staying with the story. As story listeners we receive the story, the meaning and the feelings as well. The latter can make listening more difficult, especially when strong feelings accompanying the story connect with a similar story in the listener. 

As stated in the Mary and Martha story, Gospel of Luke chapter 10, she has the better part and what she has cannot be taken away from her. She receives a blessing. The experience of being a listener who makes a difference makes a lasting impression on both the listener as well as the one telling the story. A mutual benefit is experienced in story listening. I believe Jesus acknowledges the same in Luke 10:43. 

To be continued,

Marlin Whiter, ret. Hospital chaplain, BCC
This blog has had a lot of hits both here and at Trinity Cathederal, Davenport, Iowa, under sermons: listening reflections.

I have changed the title from time to time to see if the title can provide a better understanding of the reflection.